Praise God for the WELS!

The WELS 2009 Synod Convention is now over.  I was pleased that the budget and finance committee did manage to find a way to make the necessary $1 million cut out of the budget in a way that didn’t involve closing MLS or recalling world missionaries, as was the original plan(Although, this $1 million was part of an overall budget cut of $8 million.  Part of the other $7 million already involved world missionaries being brought back to the States.  But obtaining the final $1 million in cuts from a source other than MLS or world missionaries was a blessing.)

For those of you who would be interested in more information about Synod Convention, as well as links to video and PDF files of the major presentations at the Conference (which were all fabulous and doctrinally sound and made me grateful to be WELS!), check out this post.  I don’t know who the author of the blog is, although I strongly suspect that the name he goes by is an alias.  Somehow, I doubt we have a lot of “Finkelsteins” here in the WELS. 😉

I had some bad experiences in my home WELS church during my formative teenage years.  I was ready to go somewhere, anywhere that wasn’t WELS.  But then God had me meet and fall in love with my husband, who was studying to become a WELS pastor!  When I moaned about how awful the WELS was, my then-boyfriend was in disbelief, as he had never come across such awful stories as I had related.  His experience with the WELS had always been wonderful, and I was equally in disbelief that the WELS could actually be good!

But then, as we continued to date and became more and more a part of each other’s lives, he realized that I wasn’t exaggerating: my home church WAS awful.  I also realized that he wasn’t looking at the world through rose-colored glasses: his home church WAS pretty good.  Plus, it was amazing to realize that my boyfriend wasn’t merely being indoctrinated at Sem, but was instead being taught sound theology.

My former home church is now, sadly, one of the leaders of the CGM (church growth movement) in the WELS, which explains a lot that happened to me in my past.  So, it was validating to hear the presenters at the recent Synod convention (Pres. Mark Schroeder, Prof. Brenner, and Rev. Jonathan Schroeder) unanimously condemn all that the CGM involves.  Plus, the delegates at the Convention recommended forming an ad hoc committee to study address Doctrine and Practice in our church, as a response to a growth in disunity in Doctrine and Practice in WELS churches.  Plus, this study will be done by the Seminary – yay!

I’m so incredibly grateful to still be here in the WELS.  I’m grateful that God had my life intersect with my husband’s at the time when it did, and I’m grateful that God joined us together in marriage.  The WELS isn’t perfect, and there most certainly are Christians headed for heaven outside of the WELS, but it’s such a blessing to be part of a church body that strives so hard to maintain sound doctrine and practice.  By nature, I’m pretty lazy and apathetic about my spiritual health, so I’m thankful to be in a place in my life where I’m surrounded with solid Christianity, even when I’m lazy and apathetic about my faith.

God is good, and he’s worthy to be praised!

(Any WLC choir alumni out there who remember that song, “Worthy to be Praised”? :))

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4 thoughts on “Praise God for the WELS!

  1. Sorry, to hear about your “home” church. We’ve been members there at what you refer to your “home church” about 2 yrs now. Transferred because it is my husband’s family’s home church, the kids could ride the bus to school, it is also 1/2 as close to my home church where we were previously members at and tuition was more affordable, but even that changed soon after.

    I am begininng to realize that my “home” church was a lot more “picky” about certain things and somethings I have observed are questionable in my mind (pastors regularly attending evengelical conferences for an example). I am begining to make sense why people acted like we switched religions when we transferred. I hope that recent changes will help. I love that our church is more thrifty & easier to get involved with things than my ‘home” church was.

    I am hoping a split in the WELS is not coming. I don’t know what I would do if our church would go one way and my “home” church went the other. The ALHS would suffer too. I am hoping there is some type of aggreement made that would allow both congregations, as well as our daughter congregation to remain WELS. I was so happy to hear that they are going to reveiw Doctrine and Practice in our church body. I hope it can bring us closer together as a synod, instead of tearing it apart.

  2. Hi Tammy,

    The subject of my former home church is a difficult one for me. The problems my family experienced there still affect each of us today in unique ways. Frankly, I have no desire to step foot in that church ever again.

    From a larger perspective, I think it’s an important and worthwhile goal to have unity in doctrine and practice in a church body. It’s not enough to say that merely one of the two need to be the same, meaning doctrine OR practice. Doctrine creates practice; practice is a reflection of doctrine. They cannot be separated. So, for churches and/or pastors to say that they have the same doctrine as other churches in their fellowship, but then to have substantially different practices — well, something doesn’t match up.

    I believe that many of the practices of the CGM flow from doctrine that is incompatible with what the WELS believes. I sincerely hope that the erring churches and pastors are led to realize their errors and return to a correct understanding of the truth. If those churches and pastors do not believe that they are in error, then it is apparent that they hold to different doctrine than what the WELS believes. If so, then they need to seriously consider why they would want to align themselves with a church body that does not share their beliefs.

    Divisions in the church are to be expected in these “last days.” I don’t know what the future holds for the WELS as far as a split goes, but strife in the Church is par for the course. The hard part is holding to Truth. I hope all the churches in the WELS can do that, although I know that because we’re still living in a sinful world, unity can never be guaranteed.

    Finally, while it’s nice that a church is “thrifty” and “easier to get involved with things,” keep in mind that’s not what makes a solid, Bible-believing church. What makes a strong and truly Lutheran church is solid preaching of Law and Gospel. Are people being reminded of their sinfulness and their need for a Savior every Sunday? Are they being torn apart by the Law, so that they can be re-built with the Gospel? Are they being encouraged to live their Christian lives fueled by Gospel motivation? Or, are they merely being told how they should live their lives as a Christian? Are they being told how to be a better mother/ father/ employer/ employee/ spouse/ Christian, but never being taken to the cross to find their motivation? Do the songs sung in worship focus on what God has done for us, or do the songs focus on how God makes us feel and focus what we do for God? Does worship in general focus on the incredible love that God has showed for us miserable sinners?

    I feel passionately about this subject, as you might have sensed. But I make no apologies for my passion. If a Christian isn’t focused solely on “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and if a pastor doesn’t make that THE focus of his ministry, then that pastor is not doing his congregation any spiritual favors, and he might even be leading them the wrong way.

    Check out these papers that were given at the convention. Use them as your daily devotions for the next few days/weeks, and you’ll see in greater and clearer detail what I’m talking about.

    Pres. Schoeder’s address (13 pages): http://beta.wels.net/sites/wels/files/presidents_report.pdf

    Prof. Brenner’s essay: God’s Love (13 pages): http://beta.wels.net/sites/wels/files/Brenner_essay.pdf

    Rev. Schroeder’s essay: Our Calling – Part 1 (12 pages): http://beta.wels.net/sites/wels/files/Schroeder_part1.pdf

    Rev. Schroeder’s essay: Our Calling – Part 2 (12 pages):
    http://beta.wels.net/sites/wels/files/Schroeder_part2_0.pdf

    If you choose one to start with, I would start with Brenner’s essay. Then, read Schroeder’s essay, which is meant to follow Brenner’s essay. (I got all of these links from the blog I linked to above. If you’d like to watch these essays being delivered, as well as some questions/comments from convention attendees afterwards, you can find links for that at the same site.)

    God bless!

    ~ Emily

    PS. Another great read is a book entitled “The Theology of the Cross: Reflections on His Cross and Ours” by Rev. Daniel Deutschlander. Find a link for it here: http://online.nph.net/cgi-bin/site.pl?10418&productID=150746

  3. I totally know what your saying. I listened to the essays “live” and thought they were excellent. I have always felt that the law and gospel was preached solidly in the church. Of hand I can’t think of anything that I have heard in church that I felt uneasy about. However, my attention is split between 3 kids. Hopefully, I am not missing anything. The sermons are all online and I have not heard anyone criticizing them as other churches have had happen.

    The “questionables” I have encountered are things that are outside of the scenes of the church service. There have been realitivly far and few between and all are “greyer” areas. Where there are good points on both sides but I personally would choose the more conservitive side which I feel also is more in line Biblically. I just don’t think they are the “best” practice even if it is acceptable.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I am certainly more watchful–which is a great thing. While transferring to another church & school would be very inconveinent, it certainly is an option if I feel that things are not doctrinally sound where we are at.

    I really hope our church is on-the-right track, more so then when you were growing up. I love that God has blessed you with your church & a husband that is very discerning and cautious towards adopting worship practices that are questionable and that The Word, law and gospel, is taught in its truth and purity. Such a blessing to have both at home and church.

  4. As for sermon critiques (in any church), you may consider the following. These suggestions come from Pastor Todd Wilken, host of the LCMS talk show, “Issues, Etc.” (www.issuesetc.org).

    Ask the following three questions about the sermon:

    1. Was Jesus mentioned? (Not God, but specifically Jesus). If Jesus wasn’t mentioned, the sermon wasn’t about him.

    2. If Jesus was mentioned, was he the subject or object of the verbs? If Jesus is not the subject of the verbs, chances are the sermon isn’t really about him.

    3. If Jesus was mentioned and he is the subject of the verbs, what are the verbs? Is Jesus teaching, encouraging, coaching, training, directing, empowering? That’s law, not gospel. It might be law with a smile, but it’s still law. If Jesus forgiving, absolving, redeeming, suffering, dying, rising, justifying, atoning? That’s the gospel.

    Wilken also suggests that the listener ask, “What did the preacher say my problem was, and what was the solution?” If my problem has to do with life enhancement, then chances are I’m not hearing a law-gospel sermon.

    A third Wilken sermon testing tool is this: If the sermon makes sense without Jesus on the cross, it was not a Christian sermon.

    I think many churchgoers may not realize that the gospel is not simply information. It is nourishment for my soul. If the gospel is only information, then once I learn it, I can move on and talk about something else, because “I know that already.” But if the gospel is nutrition for the soul, then I need to hear it often, even though I know it already. Then a passing reference to Jesus in a sermon about some other primary subject will not be sufficient (what I call the “shove-Jesus-in-there-somewhere sermon”). Then I will make Christ’s forgiveness in the gospel the goal of the sermon. Then I will bring in the gospel as richly and beautifully as I can.

    One of my professors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary said the following during my senior-year worship class: “A Lutheran preaches law, gospel, and then says, ‘Amen.’ A Protestant preaches law, gospel, and then says, ‘Part three.'” By that, he was not suggesting that Lutherans never preach sanctification. If the text calls for sanctification, one can hardly ignore what the Holy Spirit has said. But if the text is a law-gospel text, a Lutheran pastor need not feel that something is missing if he preaches the forgiveness of sins and then says “Amen” without giving specific directions for the Christian life. By preaching the gospel, he has in fact empowered the Christian life.

    I’ll add one more thought. Many fine Lutherans I know believe they are hearing the gospel in sermons when they really haven’t. Now, on the one hand, we don’t want to be uncharitable and assume the worst about the preacher. But on the other hand, we ought not assume that because the preacher is of a particular denomination, WELS or otherwise, that the gospel was preached. I’ve had debates with family members who are convinced that Pastor So-and-So preached the gospel in a sermon where the gospel was absent. I think that may be a case of the listener, trained to think like a Lutheran, assumes he or she is hearing the gospel in a passing mention of Jesus or grace or love. A passing reference or pithy phrase may bring the gospel to mind for some hearers, but will the average person or the unchurched prospect be able to make that connection? And should gospel content be limited to “inside-lingo” that only confirmed Lutherans can understand?

    Bottom line: Let’s encourage pastors toward high standards in gospel-content sermons. Hold their feet to the fire when they don’t (they have a sinful nature, too). Thank then when they do (they need the encouragement, too)!

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